Thessaloniki Documentary Festival Reacts With “Anger And Repugnance” To Anti-LGBTQ Attack In Town Square

Greece’s Thessaloniki International Documentary Festival is reacting with shock to an incident Saturday night in which two LGBTQ people were attacked by a huge crowd in a square outside one of the festival’s main screening venues.

According to local news reports and videos posted to YouTube, a crowd of youths numbering between 150 to 300 began shouting abuse at two 21-year-old self-identified nonbinary people, then hurled bottles at them and chased the pair into a nearby restaurant.

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“The mob continued to harass them, banging at the window of the restaurant,” one news site reported, “urging the staff to send them out. The harassment continued even when police arrived at the scene.”

The incident took place around 10:30 p.m. in Aristotelous Square, where the historic Olympion cinema is located – the largest screening venue for the documentary festival. The victims can be spotted briefly at the end of the video below:

One of the victims told they were visiting from Athens when they were set upon by the crowd. “Out of nowhere, many groups started approaching us, whistling, cursing us,” one of the targets of the attack said. “I was personally spat on, one pulled my jacket, they pushed us, they threw bottles at us.”

The violent outburst, though not connected with TiDF per se, takes place as this year’s festival recognizes the LGBTQ experience and nonfiction cinema devoted to documenting the community, with a special section it is calling Citizen Queer.

The Olympion cinema in Thessaloniki's Aristotelous Square.
The Olympion cinema in Thessaloniki’s Aristotelous Square.

“The news of the attack against two trans people, which took place on Saturday night at Aristotelous Square, filled us with anger and repugnance,” TiDF said in a statement shared with Deadline. “The Festival unreservedly and explicitly condemns any act of homophobic and racist violence, sending out a loud and clear message of tolerance, inclusivity, acceptance and visibility through the full scope of its actions: the 26th TiDF’s large-scale tribute ‘Citizen Queer’ featuring LGBTQI+ documentaries, talks and presentations from acclaimed speakers, its lineup of films, the Mermaid Award, as well as its support towards the upcoming EuroPride.”

The statement continued, “As we have repeatedly stated, the Festival discards any acts of hatred and violence and the extremist voices of intolerance and racism, serving as an open platform of art, inclusivity and dialogue.”

An image from the Citizen Queer program of TiDF
An image from the Citizen Queer program of TiDF

The Citizen Queer program features a slate of 25 films, from new work to benchmarks of LGBTQ nonfiction cinema like The Celluloid Closet, the 1995 film directed by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman that unpacked the history of gay imagery in Hollywood. Several films by director Panayotis Evangelidis are being screened, including 2022’s Tilos Weddings, “which focuses on the first gay and lesbian weddings held in Greece, in 2008, in the island of Tilos.”

Maria Katsikadakou, also known as Maria Cyber, who serves as one of the special consultants to Citizen Queer, told Deadline she was not surprised to hear of the violent incident in Aristotelous Square.

Maria Cyber
Maria Cyber

“Fascism is growing, the fascist behavior is growing,” she said. “It is so important… to walk in the street like the streets belong to us, too. It is an awful fear that they try to create inside us through intimidation. They try to oppress us, to put us down. And this is the moment we have to stand out proud.”

She added, “In society, we have achieved so many things, so many rights. It is the moment that we have to have no tolerance for any kind of fascism, racism, homophobia, sexism, patriarchy. We have to raise our voices… We are the guardian angels in society for justice, for equality. We fight for ages. We cannot give this victory to them. We cannot be afraid of them.”

Last month, the Greek parliament approved same-sex marriage, the first majority Orthodox Christian country to legalize such unions. But the legislation has met with intense backlash from the Orthodox Church. According to the Associated Press, a church body on the island of Corfu imposed a religious ban on two legislators who voted to approve the same-sex marriage law. Church officials there accused the lawmakers of committing “the deepest spiritual and moral error,” according to the AP report.

Just three days ago, a Greek writer and his partner were married in a civil ceremony, becoming the first same-sex couple to have their union recognized since passage of the same-sex marriage law.

Greek author Petros Hadjopoulos, who uses the pen name Auguste Corteau, hugs his husband, lawyer Anastasios Samouilidis, before their wedding at Athens City Hall, Greece, on Thursday, March 7, 2024.
Greek author Petros Hadjopoulos, who uses the pen name Auguste Corteau, hugs his husband, lawyer Anastasios Samouilidis.

“The Greek capital’s mayor officiated at the civil wedding on Thursday of Petros Hadjopoulos, who writes under the pen name Auguste Corteau, and lawyer Anastasios Samouilidis,” the AP reported. “Hadjopoulos said the event was ‘a dream that we didn’t dare entertain when we were in our teens.’”

In June, Thessaloniki will host EuroPride, an event celebrating the LGBTQI community that has previously been held in Paris, London, Stockholm, Madrid, and other major European cities. Maria Cyber, one of Greece’s first lesbian activists, says the city has a lot of work to do in preparation.

“The mayor has to help, and the organization running it, they have a lot to do… to make the town safe for queers,” she said. She advises the city to put up posters and disseminate ads in print and on radio “that say no tolerance to homophobia, no tolerance to fascism. They have to make a campaign, so when the end of June comes and EuroPride [happens], people already have been bombarded with information against the homophobia, against fascism, against sexism, et cetera, transphobia, lesbian phobia. So, there’s a lot of work that has to be done.”

Cyber said the point of such a campaign is, “Instead of making the fascist voice stronger, to put them back in their cave where they belong, actually.”

In the video below, one of the victims of the attack speaks about the incident (in Greek).

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